all roads lead to power.

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, injustice, leadership 5 Comments

misused power has a mean daughter

I don’t usually wake up thinking of the word “power”, but I do often wake up thinking about:

My friends living on the fringe.

Those who are trying to leave or heal from abusive relationships.

People I know from all over the place who are healing from “church”.

The realities of mental illness.

The women I intersect with who are meant to lead in church but probably never will have a chance.

How to keep The Refuge alive financially.

Rising violence in the world and how powerless I and so many others around me feel to do anything about it.

The deep divide between “us and them” in too many contexts to count.

Coffee, what I’m going to wear, and the long, crazy list of things I have to do that day.

There’s one common thread that runs through each of these things (except the last one)–power.

My loose working definition of power is “resources, value, voice, and leadership.” I’ve already written a lot about power over time–three words about it, that it’s not like pie, that it’s worth re-thinking, that we know how to live under or over each other but not alongside. I’ve talked about good power & how part of our role as Christ-followers is to pass it on and diffuse it, but that usually works better in theory than practice.

The reason I wanted to write about it yet again is that I think it’s an often-missing-yet-crucial ingredient in so many of these blog-church-faith-life-theology conversations. And it’s maybe the most important to have because all destructive roads lead to it.

Misused power and control go hand in hand.

Misused power and unbalanced resources are tied together.

Misused power and violence can’t be separated.

I was reminded of Augustine’s famous quote this week at a meeting: Hope has two beautiful daughters–Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they don’t remain as they are.

I love this thought, but we could re-write a much darker version centered on power: Misused power has a mean daughter and a cruel son–Control and Division. Control to keep people underneath and division to keep them weak.

In the gospels, Jesus wasn’t just railing on religion. He was calling out misused power, not only with “You’ve got it all wrong.” He also offered a better way. The Beatitudes and the way of the cross are good, solid starts.

It makes me think of what Henri Nouwen says in The Name of Jesus, his book on Leadership: ” What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

Because theoretical rambling about power isn’t that helpful, I thought I’d share some off-the-top-of-my-head ways we can address issues of power more openly and seek God’s help for healing its dark side so its light and good can be illuminated.

Remember, power isn’t bad. It’s just so often misused.

So here they are, 5 possible ways to address issues of power:

  1. Create safe spaces to talk about it openly. It’s underneath everything, the root of racism and sexism and classism and dysfunctional relationships and the human condition, yet we so often want to avoid it. Wednesday night at our House of Refuge we used our time to talk about race, and it was awkward and hard but I was glad we at least tried in our feeble way to talk about it instead of ignore it.
  1. Recognize our own power and privilege if we have it. When we minimize it or pretend we don’t want it or don’t have it, it isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s damaging. We need to own our white privilege, straight privilege, male privilege, economic privilege more honestly.
  1. Listen, listen, and listen some more to those who are on the underside of power. The only way to do that is to be friends with people who don’t have it. We need to hear from those whose resources, value, voice, and leadership have been diminished, silenced, squelched through culture and systems. They need to be heard and asked questions that help us better understand: “What does it feel like for you? What’s your story? Your family’s story? What makes you angry? What has hurt you? What helps?
  1. Be honest about our fears of losing it (if we have it). It is vulnerable to lose power or not have it in the way we did. Power can protect and separate us, so the reality is that when we give it up, we are far more human, far more vulnerable, far more weak-in-the-world’s-eyes. That’s worth reckoning with not only individually but as systems. Unhealthy systems are so afraid of losing power.
  1. Take out the shame of talking about it because it’s just…real. I sometimes feel guilty always bringing it up, worried that people will misperceive me as power-hungry or a whole host of other things that are confusing about talking about it as a Christian. But I think that’s part of the problem–we haven’t talked about, we haven’t addressed it, we haven’t been honest about it. And that is why our systems are so jacked up. The one place on earth that is supposed to be one of the healthiest, least-power-imbalanced, has become one of the worst.

What would you add?

I’d love to create new paths that lead to healthy power.

New ways of talking about it.

New ways of reframing it (come to the Denver Faith and Justice Conference!).

New ways of diffusing it so it multiplies.

New ways of leading and shifting it so that dignity can be restored, relationships can be free, and systems can be living, thriving reflections of the Kingdom of God in all kinds of beautiful ways.

shame, systems, and spiritual abuse.

kathyescobar faith shifts, fundamentalism, healing, leadership 10 Comments

church systems

I have been fringe-following the whole Mark Driscoll thing for years.  In fact, over 8 years ago when we were starting The Refuge, some random person told my partner-in-this-crazy-endeavor about the Acts 29 Network and that “we should consider joining because they might have planting money for us.” He had no idea what Acts 29 was and neither did I. I told him I’d look it up. As I was reading their website, my stomach started getting sicker and sicker as the words “he” and “him” and “spiritual leader” kept scrolling through the pages. I couldn’t even get to the bottom before I clicked off it and started crying. It was early on in my stepping into leading as a female co-pastor and seeing the strength of the organization and the scriptural references behind their words was exactly what I did not need in my life.

What was most interesting about it, though, was that I had no idea what Acts 29 was.

So many people don’t.

It looks and sounds cool.

It’s slick and funded and supportive of new planters.

It’s been a growing network–cultivating a particular kind of patriarchal theology and practice all over the place in small and big ways.

After then making the connection of Acts 29 to Mark Driscoll, I watched a few videos and read a few things he had written and immediately swore off ever even touching anything related to him because it all made me feel so sad and mad.  The worst part isn’t his theology; lots of people have what I think is damaging theology.

To me, the worst part is that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people flock to his churches & go to his conferences & plant new churches built upon those principles.

What about the people who have joined in and gone along with this? The truth is that they are sincere, dear, amazing people who love Jesus and got sucked into a system that preys upon their faith and indoctrinates them in a very systematic yet subtle way.

Shame is a powerful controlling tool. A shame-based theology permeates our souls and makes us need our “fix from God” to somehow realign with him. It is actually a big draw because it becomes an identity–feeling bad and feeling good.The result is that people flock to church to get back on track spiritually week after week after week.  In a weird way, it’s like smoking. Tobacco companies put nicotine in to keep drawing millions of people back to the local store to buy a pack.

Shame works the same wayit keeps drawing countless numbers of people into church so that we can find some weird sense of relief by being attached to the rigid, clear rules of a shame-based system where someone is in charge of dispensing God to us.

The hardest part for me to swallow is how Jesus is all tied up in it and is being used in a way that was everything he was against.

But that’s what sick systems do–twist truth and try to control people instead of setting them free.

Church systems are supposed to be spiritual hospitals, safe havens, places of refuge, spaces-to-meet-and-touch-and-find-the-real-Jesus, living systems of hope, and cultivators of peace. 

but alas, sometimes they have operated much more like corporations, prisons, movie theaters. and also like crazy you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-how-did-that-guy-get-them-to-do-or-believe-that cults that can look like rocking contemporary churches in cool cities around the US.

Unhealthy systems thrive on control and homogeneity. This is why “belief” and kick-butt-and-take-names leadership makes these systems go. It is nuts, really, how well it works. However, I do not think that has anything to do with God. I think it has to do with human nature and our desire for kings & celebrities & someone-to-just-tell-us-what-to-do-so-we-can-just-fit-in.

But the worst part about all of this is that shame & unhealthy systems create the perfect cocktail for spiritual abuse.  And spiritual abuse is Real with a capital R. Abuse does a number on our heads and confuses us.  It strips us of dignity and strength and so we think the way we’re being treated or pastored or lead is normal. The God trump card makes it even more crazy-making because when we resist or speak out or question or wonder or doubt, abusive systems immediately have the trump that puts us back in line and further complicates our ability to see or think clearly.

The easy thing that some people can say on the sidelines to people in abusive churches (and women or men trying to leave abusive relationships) is “Why don’t they just leave? Why are they so dumb to follow?” “What’s their problem?”

After being on the outside of an extremely unhealthy system for a good chunk of years now, I can say without a doubt–when you are in it, it sounds good, it feels good, it looks good. It works. It is your life. It is your kids’ lives.  It makes sense. It is all tangled up with God and our souls and it seems normal.

Right now, my heart hurts for all of the dear folks who are stumbling & tumbling & crawling their way out of shame-based unhealthy spiritually abusive systems during this season.

You are so not alone.

The road to freedom is long and rough and scary, but it’s so worth it in the end.

There is life on the other side.

And may we keep praying for all those who still think it’s normal & are stuck in a perpetual cycle of shame & control. Who are still following abusive leaders and giving themselves week after week to systems that power up and use them. Who have yet to taste freedom.

Oh, how I hope that over time the words of Toni Morrison ring true for those of us who once were in shame-based, unhealthy & sometimes spiritually abusive systems–may we get a chance to use our freedom to help set someone else free, too.

God, we need your help. There’s a lot of free-ing to be done these days. 

making friends with disapproval

kathyescobar blog, ex good christian women, women in ministry 1 Comment

making friends with disapproval

thank you, those of you who took time to try the poll about capitalization here (sorry it didn’t work consistently) or sent me messages or comments. i really appreciate the feedback. bottom line: if i tally everything, nocaps wins but not by a ton. most people can go either way.

i knew it would probably be split like this; however, i think that i’m supposed to experiment with a change and see what it feels like. i can always change my mind back. it is really good practice for me to experiment and be open to change & flexibility because i tend to be a person who does things forever the same way just because that’s the way i’ve always done it.  it’s true–i don’t like capital letters and don’t use them for the most part and don’t ever plan to in my day to day.

at the same time, capital letters don’t make me not me.  

i’m still the same, and my words are still the same.

plus, the truth is i use them all the time when i write in other places and those pieces aren’t less-me.

so i am going to give capitals a spin here on blog posts for the next few months and see how it feels. it’s not because i feel pressure to conform or that i am losing my personal style or selling out. it’s that i know sometimes it’s hard for people to read these very-public posts and that’s worth considering.

thursday i’ll be back with a post that’s been stirring around in my head for the past month about shame & systems & spiritual abuse.

today, though, i thought i’d share a brief excerpt from the post i wrote for sheloves magazine’s september issue, centered on “lead” that’s up today. i write a down we go column for them every month, and usually i just put the link at the bottom of the most recent post here. however, in the spirit of living with disapproval and how important it is to get good at it, here’s a little excerpt:

...we will have to live with disapproval. 

It’s just that simple. There’s no way around it.

We will have to go to bed at night feeling vulnerable.

We will have to live with weird feelings like people don’t like us.

We will have to stand up against resistance that questions our gifts and roles.

We will have to have hard conversations that will drain us.

We will have to have our motives and sometimes our faith be challenged.

We will have to feel awkward using our voice and living with what we say.

We will have to resist our desire to delete that Facebook post or edit our blog entry because we are sure that it will make people uncomfortable.

We will have to wrestle with doubts about our abilities.

We will have to stand up and keep walking when we want to sit down or crawl again.

After all these years, it still happens to me. I leave certain situations feeling stupid. I preach a sermon at another church and wonder if they approve of me. I use my voice at a meeting and am sure that people were annoyed.

Yep, I am living with disapproval.

My guess is that a lot of us out here struggle with the same thing.

click here to read the whole post.  

i hate disapproval, but i’m learning to make friends with it.

i would love to hear your thoughts and am really looking forward to being back here this fall.

see you thursday!

peace, kathy


ps: i also wanted to highlight that i finally got the spiritual midwives section under the faith shift tab up, pointing toward some spiritual directors who can help journey through spiritual transitions.  i’ll be adding a few more, too, but this is a great start of some friends of mine who understand faith shifts & are wonderful companions and guides through the messy process.

to capitalize or not to capitalize…

kathyescobar blog, just because i thought it was fun 35 Comments

capital letters

with violence pervading the world and a countless number of important topics to be processing together, i feel a little bad that i am using this space today to talk about capital letters.

but, alas, i am.

as you all know, i don’t use them. when i started this blog 6+ years ago, i had been writing in lower caps for almost 4 years already and i just wanted to keep everything consistent and the most “me” as possible.

at the same time, over the years i know it has driven some people crazy. and i do, indeed, know how to use capital letters (i just don’t like them, ha ha). when i write for other publications or in my other part-time job as an adjunct professor online, i have to tow the line and am used to using them when necessary.

i have been on a blog break for almost 2 months now and am really looking forward to coming back next week. however,  before i do, i wanted to get some quick input first.

for the first time in over 6 years, i am really open to the idea of moving to caps here if it helps readers.

because i prefer lower case, i don’t want to make that change if my data is off or it really doesn’t matter. so i have a little poll for you to give your two cents so i can decide what feels best. if you are willing, please take a few minutes and offer your input on the poll below & submit your results:  to capitalize…or not to capitalize.  there is no place on the poll for comments, so feel free to also leave any comments in the comments section.

i look forward to the results!

i also am excited to be back next monday; it’s been an awesome summer, though, and i have loved having a break. enjoy your long end of summer weekend and thanks for reading & taking time to share.

peace, kathy


would you prefer posts on this blog to be capitalized or not?

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rest, sheloves, blogs, faith shifts & summer.

kathyescobar blog, down we go, ex good christian women, faith shifts, just because i thought it was fun 3 Comments

come to me all you who are weary

it’s july 1st. we just got back from dropping our #3 off at college on the east coast for his summer-start and we are tired & sad & happy & proud & missing him already.  as i mentioned last week, after a wild and full week of grief, i am going to be taking 2 months off here to rest, take a breath & regroup a bit.  for the past several years i have always taken a month off blogging but last year i realized it’s not enough and took 2.

it was so worth it.

there’s always a risk in doing it but it’s also been a consistently good decision; the world is saturated with plenty of voices & thoughts & opinions & plugged-in is our middle name. i am hooked, too, and a little sabbatical forces me to unplug, stop-thinking-in-blog, and focus on what’s right in front of me–the twins who only have 4 more summers before they graduate, the refuge and all of the beauty and hard stuff here, and my favorite season of the year, summer! we try to be lake rats all summer and enjoy the water and warmth while we can.  the above picture is a view of it at sunset (see why i love it there so much? it’s 10 minutes from our house, too).

plus, there’s plenty–and i do mean plenty–to read around here already.  6 1/2 years worth of my rambles, to be exact.

here are all of the grief week links from last week:

if you click on the past series link, there are other series i’ve done over time (my favorites are the rebuilding after deconstructing series & what could be from a long time ago) plus a top 10 posts (i need to update this but it’s in the ballpark).

i also have a new post up today at sheloves magazine called be yourself, everyone else is taken (i really do think the work of our lives is to learn to be comfortable in our own skin). it reminded me to share the list of sheloves magazine columns that i write every month, centered on down we go.  i love sheloves & their heart for justice and beauty and passion and love.  i’ve been writing for them for a long time now, and it’s always a joy.

here’s the list if you haven’t read them before:

sheloves magazine when sleeping women wake

lastly, i am really excited about all that is in store this fall with the release of faith shift: how to find your way forward when everything you believe is coming apart published by convergent books, a random house imprint. this little baby was a lot of hard work but i am so excited about what came together in the end.  a tool for spiritual refugees, church burnouts & freedom seekers, it’s filled with stories & hope & honesty about what it looks like when our once tightly held beliefs about God & church begin to shift and faith & practice as we knew it unravels.

we’re in the final stages of copyediting, etc. and the release date is october 21st.   i shared the cover on facebook a while back, but realized i never shared it here.  i love the way it turned out; here’s what it looks like (and it’s available for amazon pre-order, too):

Faith Shift

i’ll end with this little gem, one of my favorite poems that i draw back to again and again. i thought you might enjoy it, too:

the journey poem mary oliver

i will miss being here over the next 2 months, but absence always makes the heart grow fonder.  i am always grateful for this space; it’s been a gift to me.

enjoy your summer and look forward to being back september 1st for the start of a wild & crazy fall!

peace and hope, kathy